Tag Archives: AWOL

Life in the Disbat

Komsomolskaya pravda’s Viktor Sokirko had an interesting article today about life in a disbat — a disciplinary battalion.  It features a rather idyllic video showing some of the inmate-soldiers’ daily activities.

Sokirko says only two disbats remain, and he was invited inside one to see a “prison in shoulderboards.”  The 28th Independent Disciplinary Battalion looks like other units with barracks, parade grounds, etc.  But it also has barbed wire, guard dogs, and a security company.

The acting commander says he has 162 men under guard, although he could accommodate 800.

Most are inside for “nonregulation relations” or dedovshchina.  There’s also theft, extortion, AWOL, and less often, desertion.

One Russian conscript from Abkhazia is serving 6 months for refusing to scrub the barrack floor.  He adopted the “law of the mountains,” and refused to do “women’s work.”  Another, a sergeant, got two years for rupturing the spleen of a soldier who cursed him for sending him to clean the latrine.

The acting commander says his charges aren’t beaten or thrown into pits, but simply forced to march in formation and live strictly according to regulations (including learning every line).  And there’s cleaning the barracks.

If they don’t toe the line, there’s the guardhouse, and no one wants to go there, so even the proud and independent Caucasians follow orders.  More than half the inmates — 96 — are North Caucasians.  The article claims only 2 percent of the Russian Army is drafted there, but half the men in the disbat are Caucasians.

The commander says there’s no special treatment in the disbat:

“Here everyone scrubs the toilets, and eats lard.  The friendship of peoples in miniature.”

Inmates don’t get a permanent record from time in the disbat, and the command claims only 5 percent of its former inmates become criminals subsequently.

Interestingly, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote about the disbat in 2009.  It said there were still 5 disbats with about 1,200 inmates in all.  It noted, while they don’t get a record, their disbat time doesn’t count, and they still have to complete their conscription term.  RG said 40 percent were serving time for AWOL, about the same for dedovshchina, and the rest for other crimes.

Sergey Ivanov had proposed the guardhouse as a replacement for the disbat.  Disciplinary cases would go to the guardhouse, and any soldier committing a crime not covered in the regs would be handled in civil court and prisons.  But Anatoliy Serdyukov didn’t support the plan to build and rebuild guardhouses.  Of course, he also claimed the disbat provided a better chance to get a guy back on track.

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Military Police, Open Up!

On 12 March, Krasnaya zvezda profiled what might be the armed forces’ first military police department (OVP) in the Astrakhan military garrison, under the Navy’s Caspian Flotilla.

A Statute and Instruction cover the authority and operations of Russia’s military police (MPs).  The KZ article says their formal functions reinforcing discipline, providing security, conducting antiterrorism measures, and controlling traffic.

Russian military police are a long time coming and far from all are happy about the idea.  Instituting an MP force was first debated in the mid-1990s, but it didn’t happen.  The major sticking point was whether the military police would answer to, or be independent of, the Defense Ministry.

As recently as very late 2005, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov didn’t support the idea, but hardly a month later, after the notorious Sychev abuse case, then-President Putin and then-Defense Minister Ivanov came out for establishing a military police force, primarily to halt violent crime and abuse in the barracks.  But the concept fell by the wayside after several months of debate.

Just as suddenly as the thought of military police disappeared, it resurfaced last fall.  The force was to be established on 1 December with a strength of 5,000 personnel, and military police units were to work jointly with local military komendaturas [commandant’s offices] for the first year before subsuming them.

As in the 1990s, the idea encountered considerable opposition primarily from the RF Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy.  Lukin supports military police but only if they are independent of the Defense Ministry.  He has said military officials don’t need one more bureaucratic apparatus.  For his part, Fridinskiy said:

“We need to think clearly about all aspects of this issue, including those connected with legal and financial support. Moreover, where will we find such a number of qualified people?  In our country’s conditions, it’s not a certainty that military police will bring positive changes.  Where is the guarantee that we won’t get the very same excesses that they always talk about in connection with the [civilian] police–we aren’t selecting different people, it’s all the same contingent.”

Fridinskiy seems to be worried about military prosecutors tripping over MPs, or MPs fouling the work of his prosecutors.  He definitely doesn’t entertain the idea that they could work well together. 

There were press rumors over the winter that Defense Minister Serdyukov had decided to scrap the plan to institute MPs, but defense spokesmen denied the reports.  And at least the very first OVP has appeared and gotten some publicity.

The Astrakhan garrison’s OVP chief is an O-4 who once served as head of the security department for an armaments storage base, and chief of the garrison’s guardhouse.  His KZ interviewer says the OVP Chief knows all the ins and outs of garrison service firsthand.

The OVP Chief says the composition of an OVP is determined by the size, locations, and characteristics of the garrison it serves.  His OVP has a security and convoy section, investigation section, and an MP platoon, and he describes its initial capabilities as modest.

The security and convoy section guards and transports prisoners to the prosecutor’s and military-investigative organs, to disciplinary battalions, or investigative detention.  The investigative section prepares cases against soldiers accused of disciplinary offenses.  The MP platoon is responsible for patrol service, preventing crime, and maintaining discipline within the garrison.

The article indicates the OVP will spend a lot of its efforts on searching for AWOL soldiers.  The OVP Chief indicated that komendaturas and military commissariats haven’t been able to concentrate on this job in the past for lack of resources.  Russian AWOLs are known as ‘sochintsy’ from the abbreviation SOCh, or those ‘willfully leaving the unit.’

The Astrakhan OVP Chief recognizes that liaison and relations with unit commanders, local civilian law enforcement, and municipal authorities will be key for him to do his job.  More likely and problematic, however, is the possibility of crossed wires with military prosecutors or the local branch of the military-investigative directorate.  There are already lots of investigators out there investigating military incidents.  The investigative authority of the MPs was a contentious issue in the debate over them.

Russia’s 5,000-strong MP force is a modest start for a million-man army, and the success of the effort can’t be judged until it’s possible to see how many, or how few, OVPs are established.  Past initiatives in military law enforcement aren’t particularly encouraging.

For example, the 2005 effort to reestablish the guardhouse–administrative confinement–in order to do away with the army’s five disciplinary battalions (disbats)–the idea was abandoned when Serdyukov arrived because it required sending men guilty of more serious offenses into the civilian penal system where, unlike the disbat, they would get a permanent criminal record.  The guardhouse effort also went unrealized because it was costly; 98 old guardhouses needed to be rebuilt and 44 new ones were proposed.  And so the disbat lives.  Similarly, the Defense Ministry may discover it doesn’t want to pay to create a lot of OVPs.

Only time will tell how far or wide MPs will be implemented.